In the modern world, kids are exposed to advertisements from a very young age on, often before they can even tell the difference between commercials and regular entertainment. Once familiar with certain brands, they are typically known to have a very skeptical attitude towards store brand (also known as off-brand) products in general. Breakfast cereal is a particularly contentious subject where kids can turn from skeptical to hostile.

The main argument for store brand cereal from the parent perspective is the price - knockoff products usually are available at half the cost of the originals, or even cheaper. The main argument against store brand cereal for kids, besides the less attractive packaging, is of course mostly the taste. The classic counter-argument of the parents here would be that the taste is actually pretty much the same, if it wasn't for the branding.

The only way to eliminate most of the effects of branding are blind tests. I have been able to find a number of blind tests with different kinds of cereals on the internet, but they usually have small sample sizes - typically below 20 people. Yet the results seem pretty consistent: There is only a very small majority of kids who prefer brand cereal if they don't know whether they are eating the original or the knock-off. And almost the same amount of kids will either say that the store brand tastes just as good, or even better.

What to make of the blind tests? Even the slight preference vs. store brand cereal in the blind tests could still be a result of branding: Kids that are very familiar with the cereal brands will be able to recognize them through the taste, and automatically associate the taste with the branding. Arguably then, taste preference in fact seems to not depend on original vs. store brand at all.

However the power of branding is strong. In posts such as this, parents claiming the taste to be the same (or very similar) to their kids admit to barely being able to stomach the store brand knock-offs themselves. My suggestion, given that your kids are not used to the store brand, and given that you have chosen to mostly feed your kids sugar for breakfast, is to be sneaky: Get a large plastic container and put in the branded cereal, which has the bonus of keeping the cereal fresh longer. Get groceries without your kids, and once the container is getting empty, either replace it with store brand cereal, or start by mixing both - and hope your kids won't see through your dirty maneuvers.

I have to admit, the call of the branded cereal (and pretty much every other item on the shelf) is a powerful force a parent has to overcome, both for their kids and for themselves.

We used to do the 50-50 mix of store knockoff and branded cereals. Cap'n Crunch, Cocoa Pebbles, Lucky Charms, and Life did have acceptable off-brand bags of cereal manufactured by Malt-O-Meal. The kids could never tell the difference. Some cereals were noticably different, including Raisin Bran and Quisp. For the Raisin Bran, the knockoffs have fewer raisins and the bran flakes have a terrible aftertaste. The ingredients are different as well, whereas the good store brands or knockoffs are the same formula or made on the exact same machinery.

This translates to other things like sweetened condensed milk and cream cheese (we discovered this over the Thanksgiving weekend when we couldn't tell the difference between two pies). When it comes to coffee creamer and spaghetti sauce, the off brands are obviously inferior in taste and texture. Life's too short for shitty coffee.

If you do find the brands the kids can't tell are the cheaper versions, you really can save a lot of money as mentioned by realplayer. The same goes for store brand instant flavored oatmeal. Kids don't eat it often enough or see enough commercials during their Saturday morning cartoons to have the branding stuck in their head.

Parents can also use branding to their advantage. A good friend in high school detested liver but loved his mother's Spanish steak. She just renamed it and got around the built-in yuck mechanism he picked up in grade school.

Iron Noder 2017

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